Another CDC official is departing

By Abby Goodnough

Dr. Anne Schuchat, the second-in-command at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the last six years, is leaving the agency, the second time this month that a top official has abruptly announced plans to depart.

Schuchat, a low-key career CDC scientist, joined the agency as a young epidemiologist in 1988 and eventually helped lead its responses to a number of public health emergencies, including the anthrax attacks of 2001 and the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. Deeply respected within the agency, she nonetheless was criticized along with other top officials there at times last year for not pushing back harder — at least publicly — against pressure from the Trump White House to downplay the coronavirus pandemic.

News of her departure, first reported by Politico, comes as the CDC is facing fresh controversy for advising last week that fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks in most settings. Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC’s new director, said the guidance was based on research showing that few vaccinated people become infected with or transmit the coronavirus, and that the vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the virus.

But the new guidance has caused widespread confusion, as well as concern about whether unvaccinated people would continue wearing masks when no proof of immunization is required.

Walensky said in a statement that Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, would leave this summer. “I have enormous gratitude for Dr. Schuchat’s leadership and contributions over three decades, and during this very challenging period for our country,” the statement said. “I am especially thankful for her invaluable counsel, assistance and support in my transition into this role.”

“I will remain forever grateful that our paths crossed, even for just a short while,” she added.

The announcement came less than two weeks after another top CDC official, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, resigned after many years and roles at the agency, including as its initial lead in responding to the coronavirus.

But while Messonnier, 55, left to take a job as an executive director at the Skoll Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Palo Alto, California, Schuchat, 61, is apparently retiring.

One longtime CDC official, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel issues, said that Schuchat’s resignation did not immediately appear to result from any internal disagreement, and that the word within the agency was that after 33 years, she was merely ready to step back. But the announcement came as a surprise to many who work there.

In a statement of her own on Monday, Schuchat — who was reported to be the model for Kate Winslet’s disease detective character in the 2011 movie “Contagion” — said she would be leaving “for a retirement that I hope will allow more time for creative passions.”

“I will be leaving with the greatest respect and confidence in CDC’s leadership and staff, and the important work we do,” Schuchat said. “I could not be more optimistic about the future of our agency and the prospects for our public health system.”

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